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modular, modernist... say what?


At fabprefab we use broad definitions for the sake of simplicity (and at the risk of ambiguity). Our goal is to be as jargon-free as possible.
If you have suggestions for definitions or clarifications please let us know.

The following diagram is intended to give an overview of the framework we use.

decreasing degrees of prefabrication
increasing degrees of on-site labor
mobile home*
modular/panelized home
custom home
manufactured off-site,
transported to the site in a largely completed state.
minimal on-site labor.
kit manufactured and
packaged off-site,
assembled on-site.
building designed using pre-existing modular products/systems.
built on-site using modular/prefab components and "standard" materials.
custom designed.
custom-built on-site
from "standard" materials.
on-site labor-intensive.

*mobile home is a technical term for a structure that was constructed before June 15, 1976 and meets certain criteria defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Regulations distinguish a “mobile home” from a “HUD-code manufactured home” which is a structure constructed on or after June 15, 1976 and meeting slightly different criteria than a "mobile home". "mobile home" is frequently used in the vernacular, even by HUD who often refer to "manufactured (mobile) homes". Further info here.
Info credit: Kevin Dickson.

prefab = prefabricated
This term is wide open to interpretation.
prefab home = "kit home" = "panelized home" = "pre-cut home" = on-site assembly from prefab components.
The components are either generally available when the structure is designed or they are created specifically for the project (i.e. designed for reproduction)

modernist = espousing the ideals and aesthetics of Modernism
We use "modernist" as opposed to "modern" because "modern" = "contemporary"
"modernist" refers to a particular style of architecture which is influenced (to varying degrees) by the work of Bauhaus and International Style.This is a tricky definition because it can imply reverence for some of the most brutal work of the 20th Century. fabprefab is focussed on single-family dwellings and therefore embraces elements of the "modernist" philosophy and form.

Here is one definition of Modernism: " A twentieth-century architectural style characterized by undecorated rectilinear forms and the use of glass, steel, and reinforced concrete." Source: The Collins English Dictionary © 2000 HarperCollins Publishers

Here are some of the expressions that fabprefab community members have submitted as espousing modernist values:
minimal | clean lines | lack of ornamentation | revealed structure | undisguised materials | open floor plan | glass | living with nature | pure living | honest

Here are a few examples of pure Modernism at the web site (a new browser window will open).
Farnsworth House Plano, Illinois, 1950 - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
German Pavilion Barcelona, Spain, 1929 - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Rietveld Schroder House Utrecht, The Netherlands, 1924 - Gerrit Rietveld

Quonset Hut - a prefabricated hut of corrugated iron having a semicircular cross section. Quonset was originally a US military term derived from the location where the hut was developed (Quonset, Rhode Island). The British synonym is Nissen hut. Sources:,

SIPs - Structural Insulated Panels. Panels are typically made using expanded polystyrene (EPS), or polyisocyanurate rigid foam insulation sandwiched between two structural skins of oriented strand board (OSB).SIPs are used as building panels for floors, walls and roofs in residential and commercial buildings.More info here: Structural Insulated Panel Association - a non-profit trade association.

Yurt - a circular tent of felt or skins on a collapsible framework, used by nomads in Mongolia, Siberia, and Turkey. Definition from New Oxford Dictionary of English 2002

If you have suggestions for glossary definitions or clarifications please let us know.

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